Australia's No.1 smuggler faces lengthy jail term

By Tim Clarke
The Age
December 20, 2003

The kingpin of an international people-smuggling operation that shipped hundreds of people into Australia could spend the next 20 years behind bars.

Palestinian national Keis Abd Rahim Asfoor, 32, was yesterday found guilty in the Western Australia District Court of smuggling up to 1700 people to Australia aboard fishing boats from Indonesia.

The Australian Federal Police estimated the operation would have netted him as much as $6.3 million.

Justice and Customs Minister Chris Ellison and Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone welcomed the verdict, calling the trial the most significant people-smuggling trial in Australia.

Asfoor was yesterday convicted on charges of arranging for 12 boatloads of Iraqi and Iranian asylum seekers to travel to Australia between March 1999 and September 2001.

Federal agent Glen McEwen, who tracked Asfoor across Indonesia before helping arrest him at Perth International Airport in October 2001, believed the conviction would send a message to the rest of the world.

"In terms of Australia, he and his partner (Majid Mahmood) were the No.1 (people-smugglers)," Mr McEwen said.

"It will put a big dent in the passengers' confidence in allowing them to exploit them."

Mr McEwen said people smuggling had evolved from an opportunistic, entrepreneurial environment into a well-organised criminal syndicate in recent years.

Three more prosecutions - of Hasan Ayoub, Ali Al Jenabi and Khaleed Shnayf Daoed - are due next year.

Asfoor's six-week trial, which took more than two years to reach a jury, heard from almost 50 asylum seekers who said they were brought to Australia in one of Asfoor's boats.

He faced 13 charges of people smuggling and 42 alternative counts naming people he allegedly smuggled into the country between March 1999 and September 2001.

After nearly 12 hours of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts on 12 of the 13 people-smuggling charges and 39 of the charges related to individuals.

He will be sentenced on the people smuggling convictions on January 29.


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